A Baker's dozen of #hotchefs to watch out for...
Kevin Murphy, idas, Dingle, Co Kerry
Like the fine artist that he trained to be, Kevin Murphy hides the work. You eat his food in idas, in Dingle, his many marvellous signature dishes, and coo at it and enjoy it. But it's only when you interrogate the chef that you discover just how much graft went into the background, the foreground, the detail, the characterisation, before the man was happy to send the dish out. That's not just cooking: that's art.
Grainne O'Keefe, Pichet, Dublin
“On the way out I met their young Irish, Dublin, sous chef, Grainne, who cooked our meal: with that young talent in the country I am so proud of our Irish talent!”
That's the great chef Eugene McSweeney, celebrating the work of Grainne O'Keefe, at Dublin's rock-steady Pichet bistro. Ms O'Keefe has already shown her skills by making it through to the last 5 in the Eurotoques young chef of the year competition in 2013 – she cooked mallard with roasted beetroot, turnip and savoy cabbage – and was photographed alongside the legendary Elena Arzak. In the photo, O'Keefe has her sleeves rolled up: she's ready to be the next Elena. Let's leave the last word to Mr McSweeney, and do count the number of exclamation marks he uses: “My starter of pork rillette, soft poached egg, violet mustard was sensational!!!! It was served warm and the taste and flavors were intense: I would say it was the best starter dish I have eaten in 2014!!”
Enda McEvoy, Loam, Galway
Loam finally got its doors open in Galway city not long before Xmas, and Enda McEvoy and his team quickly showed that they are the most inimitable culinary team in the country. It's not just the cooking that is inimitable, however: everything in this big room has been thought through to create a very Zen vibe, so there is no hierarchy, no division between cooking and front-of-house, between restaurant and wine bar. Loam is a Total Restaurant: everyone at all times is working at a creative fever pitch, at 110%. So, we guess that makes Enda McEvoy the Johann Cruyff of the west coast.
James Sheridan, Canteen @ The Market, Blackrock, Co Dublin
“It’s a small, simple room with whitewashed walls, seating for twenty guests and a counter behind which you can see chef James hard at work, while his partner Soizic is the gentle, capable front of house presence.” That's how Aoife Cox describes James Sheridan's restaurant, Canteen @ The Market, in Blackrock, County Dublin, the sleeper success story of the year. Mr Sheridan cooks terrific food in “a place where there are no pretensions and no frippery, just attention to the details that matter - great food and warm service.” That great food and that warm service will do nicely, say all those happy customers who come back to Canteen again and again.
Stephen Toman, OX, Belfast
“This is the best food I've eaten in my entire life”, said our guest in the middle of course 3, of 7, at OX. Many others will have said the same thing in 2014 about Stephen Toman's cooking in Belfast's cutting-edge restaurant. To find a parallel to the creativity and wildness of the food, in Northern Ireland's own restaurant history, you have to go back to the iconic days of Rankin-Deane-Millar, at their respective peaks, fully twenty years ago. Mr Toman is as good as the best at their best, and OX is a restaurant where the team feel they can do anything, a place with excitement in every bite.
Barry Liscombe, Harte's, Kildare, Co Kildare
Barry Liscombe has taken the cooking at Harte’s up another gear. His menus showcase impeccable sourcing - Ballyhoura mushrooms; Goatsbridge trout; Irish craft beer – and the dishes then show precision in their composition, cooking and presentation. Mr Liscombe has drawn around him a great team, a team whose work is serious, and who offer a very individual, very sensual, style of cooking, all of this from a restaurant that is on a mighty, mighty roll.
John Wyer, Forest Avenue, Dublin
Forest Avenue has been the biggest success story in Dublin ever since John and Sandy Wyer got the doors of their former-car showroom open. But Mr Wyer's real success isn't the fact that he has won an audience. Instead, his true value lies in how he has shifted the restaurant paradigm: in Forest Avenue, the customer pays homage to the working of the restaurant. Mostly, the way a restaurant works is by paying homage to what the customer wants. But Mr Wyer isn't interested in that compromise, so he runs FA as if it is a theatre group, or a string quartet: you turn up when they are ready, not when you are ready, and you are there for the performance, from start to finish. And that is why Forest Avenue food is so good.
Katie Sanderson, The Dilisk Project, Connemara
Forty days and forty nights. Forty days of working, foraging, cooking, and forty nights of serving that food to a sell-out audience in an old boat house in the wilds of Connemara. Only Katie Sanderson – and her culinary partner, Jasper O'Connor – would reckon that moving lock, stock and barrel to the wilds of the West is an ideal way of working. But Ms Sanderson's success in summer 2014 with The Dilisk Project shows that she doesn't seem to like the 9-to-5: instead she is looking to “create different ways for food to be enjoyed.” Her projects are as peripatetic as the woman herself – last spotted at Bar Tartine, in San Francisco – so the only thing we can say with confidence is that the next happening won't be “The Dilisk Project: The Remake.”
Michelle Darmody, Cake Café & Slice, Dublin
Michelle Darmody has become a commanding presence in the Irish food world. She is restaurateur, entrepreneur, food writer, organiser, iconoclast, author, social media adept. If she isn't writing a piece for The Examiner, she is opening a new restaurant – Slice, in Stoneybatter – or writing a book, or designing tea towels, or collaborating with IMMA on a series of food happenings. She has been at the centre of Dublin's creative food culture ever since the great Cake Café opened but, in recent times, her profile as a Major Player has become unmissable. Best of all, she brings the wit of the art student to the business of food, so every detail adds richness. Would someone please give her a gig in the Government.
Aoife Noonan, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
Yes, that's right: you reckon we don't really do RPG in this part of the world, but Aoife Noonan is the kind of cook who makes you throw away the playbook. In 2014 Ms Noonan won the Valrhona Patisserie Championship, delivering both a restaurant dessert and a street food riff on the same plate. Her winner was the witty The 'Java' Cake, along with The Espresso Shot street food. But where she completely blew us away was with her calm, no-problem-at-all demonstration at the Dungarvan Food Festival, as she fashioned the most meticulous rhubarb tart you have ever seen in front of a packed Town Hall audience. Rachel Allen was straight away up to Dublin to film this gifted cook, and you can expect to see much more of Ms Noonan.
Diana Dodog, The Food Depot, West Cork
“Wow!” said our young lad, P.J., as he took his first bite of Diana Dodog's squash and chickpea curry. He was sitting on a seaside bench in Courtmacsherry, in deepest West Cork, beside the food cart – The Food Depot – run by Diana and her husband, Mike. With cooking this good, you don't need a restaurant: you need only an appetite, and an appreciation of how great cooks can cook great food absolutely anywhere. Ms Dodog is famous because she won Masterchef, but her fame in the future will be based on the solid reality of her inspired cooking.
Martin O'Donnell, Upstairs @ West, Twelve Hotel, Barna, Co Galway
There is a spontaneity to Martin O’Donnell’s cooking that shows the work of a chef who has arrived, and it is invigorating to see him lay out his palette of foods in Upstairs @ West. Right from the pitch-perfect brown bread and all the way through seamlessly arranged tasting menus, the cook has a sure hand, and you can eat 10 courses here and feel like you’ve snacked on a water biscuit. Wines and service match the stellar quality of the cooking at every point, and Upstairs @ West is firing out some of the best cooking you will find on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Fumbally Collective
Aisling Rogerson talked about “wanting to do something a little bit different” when she and Luca d'Alfonso set up the space in 2012, but it's the extent of that difference – the avoidance of anything that is obvious, the collective nature of the cooking – that makes The Fumbally so radical. Fumbally food is essentially street food – felafels; huevos rancheros; miso broth; pulled pork – and Ms Rogerson and her crew bring the tenor of the street and the market to their menus. The Fumbally is radical but, more than that, it's important: it is a philosophical space, it is a forum.